Merritt Island on the central Florida
Atlantic coast is 1,000nm (l,850km) away from the Wichita
global center of business aviation and for Comp Air
Aviation chief executive Ron Lueck, when it comes to
resources and investment support, it might as well be light
But Lueck and his team of engineers come to
NBAA this week determined to close the gap with the debut of
their prototype Comp Air 12.
"It is a completely different world for us,"
says Lueck with a rueful grin. "Just getting the aircraft
into NBAA is a large investment for us. But it is where our
market is. It's where we see our future customers and where
we meet the investors that we need to take us to the next
The Comp Air team is very hands on. One
visitor pulling into one of the several hangar/workshops
scattered around the Merritt Island airport asked a worker
up to his arms in grease where he could find the chief
executive. "Right here," said the worker. "Where?" asked the
besuited visitor. "It's me," the worker said. Lueck laughs
as he tells the story. "I'm not so good dressing up in a
suit, I am much happier with the aircraft."
Lueck is a prolific designer of aircraft. He has
already designed, built and test-flown 14 different aircraft
from a single-seat ultralight to a small business jet. He is
also still the proud holder of the world speed record in the
FAI's C3b amphibian class using piston engines and weighing
between 1,3201b (600kg) and 2,6401b for takeoff. He reached
201.5mph (325km/h) in 1988 in the Air Shark he designed with his
late father, Art, a talented engineer and metallurgist credited
with developing patents for the LED technology.
"I started flying with my dad when I was a
small child. We moved from a Skylane to a 210 and Twin
Commander. We built a kitplane together and then looked at
the Seawind and decided it was ugly and that we could design
something better ourselves and so we built the Air Shark."
After Art died at 55, Lueck branched out,
growing first a propeller business and building composite
floats until boredom and a workshop fire led him to
re-evaluate and do what he really wanted to do - "build
airplanes!" From that ambitious statement, a man with no
aeronautical engineering or design qualifications began to
create a remarkable family of composite homebuild
aircraft under the Comp Air banner.
Remarkably, each one is test flown by Lueck himself.
"It's the coolest feeling in the world
making that first flight in something you have designed and
built yourself. But it is as scary as hell. My heart doesn't
beat for about 30 or 40 seconds before the aircraft climbs
away and does what it is supposed to do. Well, you can't
beat that feeling."
The latest addition to the family - the
Comp Air 12 - is completely different. It is the first
aircraft that has been designed by Lueck for full Federal
Aviation Administration certification rather than as an
Lueck fervently believes that the single-engined
turboprop will enter the market at just about the right
He sees a major shift coming as accountants
rather than flight departments study the effectiveness of
typical corporate missions. "Most are in the 400 to 500 mile
range. People are looking at VLJs but when they do the
reality check they will see how that mission can be done in
more space for half the cost with a single-engine turbo."
With the prototype already here, Lueck is
looking at just 30 months from funding to certification. "When
manufacturers look for funding it is usually for the first round
of design. We've already done that. We know what we have to do
to get the conforming aircraft built and into the test program."
Comp Air is meeting potential investors from
China, India and Taiwan during the next three days. The
company's goal is to raise $100 million to get the Comp Air 12
to production in time to meet projected demand.
They will also be analyzing a questionnaire
from visitors to the static park, where the aircraft is on
display (free prize draw every day), and also taking deposits
from those who want to stake a claim on the early models
Fifteen aircraft have already been ordered with
a probable delivery price of $2.95 million, comparable to where
Lueck believes the Eclipse will be by the probable 2010
"The difference is what we can achieve," he
The Comp Air 12 is powered by a Honeywell
TPE331-14GR, 1,500hp (1,120kW) engine giving it a range of
2,535nm - coast to coast capability non-stop.
"We climb at 2,800ft/min fully loaded and so
are with the business jets. We save money in taxi, take-off and
climb and average 71USgal/h [270 litres/h] fuel consumption.
Our extra range means no refueling stop en route so we will get
there before the VLJ competition."
Lueck also sees the cabin size making a
difference. With a cabin 68in [172cm wide, 21ft long and 70in
high, there is room for six seats, a table and reclining seat.
"If people are in the air doing business they
need space," says Lueck. "They want to stretch out, work on
their laptops, watch a movie and get to where they want to go.
We can do all that." The aircraft is also fitted with a lavatory
and pressurized internal baggage hold space.
With cruise at 310kt (170km/h) at 30,000ft and a
useful load of 5,000Ib, the Comp Air 12 could be adapted from an
eight passenger business configuration to a 10- or 12seat
Pilot comfort and needs have also been taken
into account. The optical sensing interrogator will give the
pilot an automatic weight and balance and centre of gravity
check; the cockpit has also been designed to enable easy
"I'm 49 and I had a look over a Lear 55. I
couldn't work out how I could sit in the cockpit without
treading all over the equipment. We know that a lot of our
customers will be ownerpilots who are older and will
welcome the ease with which they can just get into the seat
of the Comp Air 12 and fly."
You can sense Lueck is keen to get back to
the aircraft, get his hands dirty and start making it
"We have built hundreds of aircraft," he
says. "A lot of companies bringing aircraft to market are
not run by aviation people, they are run by beancounters. We
are aviation through and through."
Lueck's small company may be a million
miles from the glass and chrome corporate world of Wichita,
but in spirit he is much more like a Walter Beech or a Bill
Lear. He has the spirit and a dream.
Today at NBAA, that dream may come just a little
bit closer to reality.